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Thread: Indian influences in the reggae 'nuum

  1. #1
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    Default Indian influences in the reggae 'nuum

    Wondering if anyone can enlighten me on Indian influences in the development of popular music in Jamaica/the Caribbean. I've seen loads of references to the introduction of ganja to the region by Indian indentured servants. And I'm sure i've read about musical cross-polination as well, but damned if I can find it now. I certainly think I hear it in some of the roots stuff especially. (EG: Augustus Pablo. The melodica is a portable harmonium in a sense, no? Did that come out of '60s Indian/Western pop mixology or is it feeding off of something older?)

    Hoping the Dissensus reggae crew can fill man in a bit or direct I to some sources. Any help is greatly appreciated.
    Last edited by nomos; 01-06-2005 at 02:01 AM.
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    And what of raga / ragga?
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    Some thoughts re: early Indian influences. I'd assume these were stronger in places with a larger population of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent, e.g. Trinidad and Tobago, Guadeloupe. I lack knowledge, but I would wager that most 'Indian-sounding' roots reggae from Jamaica is more a result of Rasta yearning for an idealized homeland 'East of the River Nile' than a direct fusion of East and West Indian music, but I might be wrong.
    Also I'd think that Augustus Pablo's choice of the melodica (a cheap instrument used in basic music instruction) was due to practical rather than any cultural reasons, at least initially.

    Music of Hindu Trinidad : Songs from the India Diaspora by Helen Myers is an outstanding book + CD package. I'd also check out East Indian Music in the West Indies by Peter Manuel.

    One of the first audio documents of East/West Indian musical cross-pollination would be Alan Lomax's Caribbean Voyage - East Indian Music in the West Indies, recorded in 1962 and available on the Rounder label.

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    Thanks Come to think of it, I've had that Manuel book out of the library before. I'll check these out.
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    Quote Originally Posted by autonomicforthepeople
    And what of raga / ragga?

    Its not raga - its raag. Raag is if I remember correctly means song.

    Bhajan is a hindu song

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    just read somewhere that ganja was first brought to Jamaica by Indian traders. prolly back in... the 1600s?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Badmarsh
    Its not raga - its raag. Raag is if I remember correctly means song.

    Bhajan is a hindu song
    i think a rag/raag is the scale/mode that a performance is based on. indian music is largely improvised though, so i guess the scale pattern used pretty much defines the song.....

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    far as i know, there has been little work in this area. most of the (ethno)musicology that looks at east indian music in the west indies focuses on "trad" contexts for it: i.e., music in east indian communities. i'd love to see more on the question of musical fusions and mutual influence. rhythmically, many folk indian rhythms overlay quite easily with caribbean polyrhythms. this partly explains how modern bhangra can so seamlessly incorporate dancehall, and vice versa.

    i'd have to agree with red crescent, though, in terms of the "east river nile" stuff. orientalism takes some interesting forms in jamaica, and the caribbean more generally. much of it is the stuff of the imagination. even the diwali, despite its name, never really sounded very indian to me. more recent riddims seem to have more of an indian "flavor," though i think that can as easily be attributed to the korg triton's tabla-patches as to anything else. and the ragga/raga thing is pure coincidence. (ragga is short for raggamuffin.)

    as the story goes, soca is a fusion of afro-trinidadian and indo-trinidadian styles. at least, that's what ras shorty i, generally credited with the fusion, has said:
    http://www.angelfire.com/ny/Playmas/shorty.html

    finally, let's not forget, along with ganja, another of india's great gifts to the caribbean: curry. mmmmm...

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    Diwali doesnt sound Indian?

    Diwali is the core of Indian mythology! The celebration of light!

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    i have to wonder though.. if get ur freak on had featured castinets and not tablas would we be having this conversation?

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    Quote Originally Posted by minikomi
    i have to wonder though.. if get ur freak on had featured castinets and not tablas would we be having this conversation?
    funny you should say that cos to me diwali has always sounded more flamenco than indian... i remember playing it in this club in spain once and a group of people started doing flamenco clapping, stamping the floor and so on...

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    the name "diwali" sounds indian, of course. the riddim "diwali" does not, to my ears anyway. when it hit big, i saw a lot of people make comparisons to bhangra, but i just don't hear it. the rhythmic qualities--in particular the bassline which has now been borrowed by a number of pop acts--are consistent with longstanding caribbean traditions. the handclaps have always sounded more like flamenco to me, too.

    and i also agree with minikomi: if it were not for the orientalist craze in contemporary hip-hop, we would not be hearing nearly so much "indian-ness" in reggae riddims.

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    Quote Originally Posted by wayneandwax
    orientalist craze in contemporary hip-hop
    Not to mention sino-Grime! IMHO most 'oriental' sounding tunes are actually closer to Middle Eastern than Asian music, tho'.

    An aside: I've always been intrigued by the number of roots reggae producers with Oriental sounding names: the Hookim brothers, Michael Chin, Geoffrey Chung, George Phang... I'm sure there's more. I don't hear any distinctly Asian influences in their work, but it's a cool connection.

    curry
    Oh man. The best.
    It's my understanding that ready-made curry powder is actually an Indo-Caribbean invention, while cooks in the Indian subcontinent (used to) make their own spice blends from dried curry leaves. As it's a very time-comsuming task (curry is definitely slow food!) I'd assume the use of curry powder is also becoming more commonplace there, too.

    Other Indo-Trini culinary delights: coconut/green mango chutney, aloo dum, roti, tandoori fish, banana sheera. And... A Beer is A Carib.

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    near eastern, middle eastern, far eastern, or south(east) asian, orientalism tends to conflate all of these easterns, as it is a projection of the west. i agree, tho, that the orientalist flavor in much of this stuff, from hip-hop to reggae to grime, has been more focused on the signifiers of say, egypt and india, than japan. that's yet another thing that makes jin's "learn chinese" so remarkably strange: the chorus plays that ol' "egyptian melody" on what sounds like a japanese string instrument (a korg koto-patch, perhaps?), while they change yellowman's anti-chinese "mr.chin" refrain into a pro-chinese "mr.jin"; incredibly, they even recuperate (or at least try to) the nonsensical "oo long shong long shong long pie..."

    as for asian-sounding names in jamaican music, partly that's due to the significant chinese community that settled there (and on many other caribbean islands, notably cuba) in the late 19th century. many of the producers you name are, indeed, chinese-jamaican.

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    have a google for 'chutney' for the indian influence on caribean music, both reggea and soca.

    yep ganja was introduced by indian traders and indentured labour.

    edit : http://aingram.web.wesleyan.edu/chutney.html
    Last edited by Bang Diddley; 06-03-2009 at 02:47 PM.

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